In his (in)famous essay What is Christianity?, the father of German liberal theology, Adolf Von Harnack, has the following to say about how the modern church should regard the biblical use of miracles:

“In the fourth place, and lastly, although the order of nature be inviolable, we are not yet by any means acquainted with all the forces working in it and acting reciprocally with other forces. Our acquaintance even with the forces inherent in matter, and with the field of their action, is incomplete; while of psychic forces we know very much less. We see that a strong will and a firm faith exert an influence upon the life of the body, and produce phenomena which strike us as marvellous. Who is there up to now that has set any sure bounds to the province of the possible and the actual? No one. Who can say how far the influence of soul upon soul and of soul upon body reaches? No one. Who can still maintain that any extraordinary phenomenon that may appear in this domain is entirely based on error and delusion? Miracles, it is true, do not happen; but of the marvellous and the inexplicable there is plenty. In our present state of knowledge we have become more careful, more hesitating in our judgment, in regard to the stories of the miraculous which we have received from antiquity. That the earth in its course stood still; that a she-ass spoke; that a storm was quieted by a word, we do not believe, and we shall never again believe; but that the lame walked, the blind saw, and the deaf heard, will not be so summarily dismissed as an illusion.”

My question is this: What the hell does Harnack mean? I can understand how someone familiar with contemporary neurosience or quantum mechanics might make this kind of remark (and I would be somewhat inclined to agree with them), but, to my knowledge, Harnack published most of his work a few decades before Niels Bohr’s work. I’m not too familiar late 19th century cutting-edge theoretical science, and I’m still officially in Winter break mode (i.e. I’m too lazy to go on a fact-finding mission right now with all of this great college basketball to enjoy!), so if anybody could point me in the direction of enlightenment, I would be much obliged.

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